Archive for August, 2006

Big Dig Active Sensor Array

August 30, 2006

I’m sure most people have heard about the recent problems with the ceiling panels in two of Boston’s Big Dig tunnels, which came to light when a woman was killed by a falling panel that crushed her car on July 10th.

What you may not realize is that this has ballooned into a much bigger problem, as described in Scott Allen’s article on boston.com. Some 3300 brackets in two tunnels are now deemed to be inadequate to support the tunnel ceilings. This in addition to having to reinforce over 10,000 epoxy-secured bolts after a number in each tunnel were found to have come loose. The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority is now expecting the repairs to total $15M rather than the initially estimated $3M.

My concern is how the Turnpike Authority and the State of Massachusetts are going to recover the confidence of the public in this matter. Given the widespread nature of the failures, I don’t believe that reinforcing the brackets, replacing the bolts, reinstalling the ceiling panels, and then declaring success will be a very effective argument.

Instead, I would like to see active sensors installed on the ceiling panels. Sensors that can record displacement, or stress, or whatever the engineering teams deem to be the most effective metric to track the health of the tunnel infrastructure. Powering the sensors should not be a problem as I understand the ceiling panels themselves form the bottom side of an air plenum that carries a high-velocity exhaust stream out of the tunnel system. Surely this air stream could be used to power a set of wireless sensors that can be queried and monitored remotely for any future problems. To be totally transparent, the real-time state reported by the sensor array could be available on a public website for all to examine.

Yes, this will add to the cost of the repair. But an active monitoring capability would go a long way towards assuring the public that we will not see a repeat of the tragedy of July 10th.

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Open MPI 1.1.1 Released

August 30, 2006

The Open MPI community has just released version 1.1.1 of the Open MPI library. The changes in this bugfix release are described here, and the source code bits can be found here.

As previously announced, the next version of Sun’s supported MPI library for Solaris will use Open MPI rather than our own, proprietary implementation. Our engineers are busy working on both general Open MPI improvements as well as improved support for Solaris in particular.

In the meantime, v1.1.1 is compilable and usable under Solaris 10 on both SPARC and x64, though it currently lacks support for Solaris Infiniband. And this release is supported through Open MPI’s community forums rather than directly by Sun.

Heading South

August 28, 2006

Our hummers are getting ready to head south for the winter. We’ve enjoyed having six or more with us through the spring and summer and expect we’ll see them again next year. Here’s a shot of one in our back yard.


Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Systems Leadership Summit, Day 2

August 23, 2006

The second and final day of John Fowler’s System Group Leadership Summit began with a presentation by John on his leadership values, which all of the attendees I spoke with later found very valuable. I guess it’s always good to know what the boss is thinking and what he values. 🙂 In this case, the concept of “stewardship” is something that resonates with John. He defined stewardship as having three axes: Responsibility, Service, and Mature Leadership.

The follow-on leadership training session, run by an external trainer, was not very useful in my view. While it worked reasonably well as a teaming session, I didn’t gain any real insight into improving my leadership abilities. Others seemed to feel the same way.

The balance of the day was filled with presentations by Mike Lehman, Greg Papadopoulos, and Jonathan Schwartz.

I always appreciate an opportunity to hear Mike speak because he is frank and clear about where we are, what we need to be doing, what we’ve done so far, and where we are going.

Greg’s talk was one I’d heard before, but it reinforced the message for me. I agree with him that there is a real shift happening from delivering applications as bits on local systems towards delivering applications as services in the network. I can see that as a Sun employee, but more important, I can see it as a consumer.

Jonathan’s was the last session of the day and it was more of a Q&A session that a set of prepared remarks. He was pleased with the great server market share news that was released today. Since he was talking to the Systems Group, the division responsible for designing and building those servers, he expressed his appreciation to all for the hard work that contributed to these results. He also apologized to John for running late and not being able to pick up a bottle of champagne to open in front of the team. Instead, he simulated the event by throwing a cup of water on John as an homage, which drew a big laugh from the crowd.

Systems Group Leadership Summit

August 23, 2006

John Fowler, Systems Group EVP, has gathered his VPs and Directors; Fellows and DEs; and his corporate business partners for a two-day, in-person meeting in Santa Clara. This is the first Systems Group Leadership Summit.

[john fowler]
John Fowler, Executive Vice President, Systems Group

Yesterday, John reviewed FY06 accomplishments, presented a business update, and covered his strategy going forward for Systems. In addition, we had two excellent invited talks.

The first was given by Dan Miller, Senior Vice President of Sun’s Global Systems Practice. He gave a very good overview/update of GSS (Global Sales and Service) with an emphasis on the Systems Practice, the sales arm most closely associated with the Systems Group. The two organizations work together to ensure we deliver products and solutions of value to Sun’s systems customers.

Anil Gadre, Sun’s Chief Marketing Officer, gave an engaging and interesting talk on Sun’s marketing strategy, including updates on how we did last year in terms of market perception, messaging, exposure, etc. For any Sun employees who get a chance to hear Anil speak, I recommend you take advantage of the opportunity.

Today’s agenda includes leadership topics followed by presentations by Mike Lehman, Greg Papadopoulos, and Jonathan Schwartz.

Ten Tables, Three People, One Good Time

August 20, 2006

My wife and I had dinner last week with Chris Jackson, former Sun senior staff engineer. Chris left Sun several months ago to try the start-up thang and is currently working at Tilera, whose just referenced website will tell you precisely nothing about what they are doing so don’t even bother following the link. By all accounts he’s having a challenging and fun time in his new position.

We were happy to hear he’s still making time for blowing glass, which he does regularly at Diablo Glass and Metal in Boston. Unless he’s off taking a class at the Corning Museum of Glass, which I very much want to visit.

[chris jackson]

With two thirds of our party being vegetarian, we decided to try one of the upscale Boston restaurants that offers a significant vegetarian option (well beyond the standard boiled vegetables or the ubiquitous pasta primavera.) In this case, we made a reservation at a charming and tiny restaurant in Jamaica Plain called Ten Tables. So named because—wait for it–yes! Because they have ten tables in the restaurant. It’s a small place with a small kitchen, but they sure can cook. I can vouch for the four-course vegetarian tasting menu being both beautifully plated and wonderfully flavored. We all enjoyed our meals and thought it would definitely be worth another visit. For those looking for such a thing, it’s an excellent date restaurant–great ambience. Call for a reservation, because–you know–they only have ten tables.

After dinner we took a walk down Centre Street in JP and I tried a kiddie cone of fresh cucumber ice cream at JP Licks. You can’t really visit JP without going to JP Licks. They didn’t disappoint. Light and sweetly flavorful, the cucumber ice cream managed to nicely combine a clean vegetable taste with the sweetness of sugar and cream. Yum.

Aerial Photography Considered Harmful

August 19, 2006

On my recent trip back from India on British Airways, I was inspired by Julieanne Kost’s recent book, Window Seat (not to be confused with another book of the same title by Dicum) to snap some landscape photos at 35000 feet. I think we were over Iran at the time. After taking several shots, imagine my surprise when one of the BA attendants closed the window shade and informed me that it was against British Airways policy for passengers to take such photos for security reasons. I thought she was kidding, but the head attendant confirmed what I had been told. And that it had nothing to do with where we were flying.

Here are some photos for your enjoyment. I was actually trying to shoot hyperstereo pairs–if that works out, I’ll post those as well. For now, a few flat images.


Cranberry Bog Pumphouse

August 18, 2006

[pumphouse photo] Cranberry Bog Pumphouse, Cape Cod

Me As A Monitored System

August 17, 2006

I just finished my latest 24 hour stint as a monitored system. I was wearing the Philips Medical DigiTrak-Plus 24 portable cardiac monitoring system. These devices are often called Holter monitors. This one is a slick little system, much smaller and lighter than the old cassette walkman sized units I used to wear. With fewer leads, too.

The unit records 175 10-bit samples per second over 24 hours onto an internal 64 MB CF card. The external interface is via USB using a proprietary Philips dock. Too bad–it would be fun to download the data and look at it myself. With a $1300 replacement cost, I’m not going to muck with it.

This passive and temporary monitor is no big deal–just an inconvenience. Contrast this to my sister, whose similarly sized-unit is embedded in her shoulder under her clavicle. It does monitoring, but also has an “auto-reboot” feature that uses platinum wires threaded into her heart, should the need arise. Now that is a serious monitoring system.

[holter monitor]

Gettin’ Griddy with Open MPI

August 17, 2006

As has been mentioned previously, Sun’s next release of MPI (Message Passing Interface) will be based on the open source Open MPI code base. Sun joined the Open MPI developer community earlier this year and our engineers have been actively working with other member organizations on future versions.

I saw a note on the open source Grid Engine alias a few days ago mentioning that initial support for a tight integration between Open MPI and Grid Engine is coming. It isn’t supported yet, but code has been checked in on the Open MPI trunk.

Excellent news!